Why Can’t You Just…

“You’re such a girl.”

“Man up.”


“Boys will be boys.”

“He’s a guy’s guy.”

These are just a few of the gender-based phrases that students hear throughout their daily lives. In Girl Mans Up, M-E Girard explores the concept of gender through the lens of a teenager, Pen, who doesn’t fit into a specific category. While she self-identifies as female, she doesn’t want to present herself to others in a traditionally feminine way. She has more in common with her male friends who play video games and flirt with girls. This has been true for as long as she can remember and the two people whom she could most count on for support were her older brother Johnny and her best friend Colby.

As a junior at a Catholic high school, Pen is ready to really start committing to who she is. She wears her brother’s clothes, cuts her hair, and starts to date a girl named Blake who wears lots of black makeup, sings in a band, and knows everything about video games. She doesn’t realize how much this will affect her close relationships. Her parents are Portuguese immigrants who feel that she is being disrespectful and is “not a good girl.” Pen also slowly starts to realize that Colby is controlling, misogynistic, and was really only using her to break the ice with girls that he wants to date. Her brother Johnny continues to be the one consistent person who understands her and likes her, not for who he thinks she should be but for who she knows she is.

Pen sums it up like this, “People should just be allowed to look in the mirror and see all kinds of possibilities. Everyone should be able to feel nice when they look in the mirror. They should at least be able to see themselves reflected in there…” (301).

Teenagers are dealing with enough searching for their own definitions of who they are. When we add the obligation to make that definition indisputably evident to everyone else, the burden becomes overwhelming. One step that many organizations are taking is having staff share their pronouns up front. This way, individuals are able to self-identify rather than giving others the chance to form their own conclusions. This might be a policy that schools need to take at the beginning of each school year. Teachers could ask their students to introduce themselves and share their pronouns right from the start.

Hi everyone, my name is Leah Cole and my pronouns are she/her/her. Just like Pen, the only one who gets to decide what I look like, sound like, or act like, is me.

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Identity 1: I have a positive view of myself, including an awareness of and comfort with my membership in multiple groups in society.

Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.

Justice 11: I relate to all people as individuals rather than representatives of groups and can identify stereotypes when I see or hear them.

Common Core Standards:

RL.1- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

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